Tag Archives: Natural History

Sue, The Tyrannosaurus Rex

Sue in the Main Hall

Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois.

When I visit Chicago, Illinois, I like to visit my old friend Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex. In early April, my husband and I got re-acquainted with Sue when we were in the city for a wedding.  We braved unseasonably cold weather, high wind (well, it is Chicago, the Windy City) and some snow and ice to see the old gal.  She looks pretty good for 67 million years old, although she does admit to some cosmetic help.

When I was refreshing my memory about Sue’s many attributes and history, I was thrilled to read that the T rex mural on the wall behind Sue is by John Gurche, a University of Kansas graduate. I’d met John Gurche years ago while I was at KU and am always happy to discover one of his works. I bought his dinosaur stamps, and of course I never used them on an envelope. (What would happen to the U.S. Postal Service is all of the stamp collectors suddenly used all of their stamps as postage!)  Gurche’s work is featured in museums and in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian and the Boston Globe. He was named one of the 2013-14 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College.

I’m not sure when I’ll see Sue again, so I will get my next fossil fix at the KU Museum of Natural History.  And one of these days I’ll post my story about a dinosaur dig I went to in Wyoming near Newcastle.

About Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

 

Dinosaur Stamps

John Gurche’s U.S. Postage Dinosaur Stamps.

About John Gurche.

 

 

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Filed under Biology, Natural History, Paleontology, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

See You Later, Alligator

Alligator Hazard on the Golf Course Postcard

Alligators are an added hazard on this South Carolina golf course.

Alligators are common in the wetlands along the coast of America’s South — Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.  Large alligators can be found swimming in and basking along the edges of golf courses and neighborhood ponds.  We saw many on recent trips to South Carolina.  At first alligators are both a thrilling and a chilling sight, but you do get used to seeing them.  But don’t get too complacent! Though alligators usually shy away from humans, it’s wise not to get too close. They can hurt or even kill you.  There are alligator warning signs everywhere. Dogs can never run loose, either. I used a telephoto lens, but even so I may have been too close.  You never know what’s lurking just below the surface.  On a Florida ranch, an 800-pound 15-foot-long alligator recently was killed.  It had been eating cattle that came to a pond to drink.

A mother alligator keeps a watching eye on visitors to a pond on Seabrook Island, South Carolina. A mother alligator will watch out for her young for about a year. The most danger to a baby alligator is from adult alligators.

A mother alligator keeps a watchful eye on visitors to a pond on Seabrook Island, South Carolina, where a large number of baby alligators are living. A mother alligator will watch out for her young for about a year. One of the biggest dangers to a baby alligator is an adult alligator.

Alligators are Dangerous!

Alligators are Dangerous!

My friend Anita took me to a pond in her neighborhood, where there were dozens of baby alligators — an alligator nursery.  A mother alligator rested in the water along the bank while the young alligators of various sizes swam in the pond and napped on the banks.  On the opposite side of the pond, Snowy Egrets gathered in the trees.  It was breeding season, and the egrets had grown filmy plumes that they fanned out in a mating display.  Anita noted that they looked like angels.  They did!

Hunters once killed these birds for these plumes to adorn ladies’ hats, which caused the numbers of these gorgeous birds to plummet. Now protected in the United States by law, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the snowy egret population has rebounded.

Baby alligators (noted by red arrows) look like sticks floating in the water. There is a real stick for comparison.

Baby alligators (noted by red arrows) look like sticks floating in the water. There is also a real stick floating in the water.

A baby alligator, not even a foot long, swims in a Seabrook Island, South Carolina, pond.

A baby alligator, not even a foot long, swims in a Seabrook Island, South Carolina, pond.

Although abundant now, alligators were also threatened due to extensive hunting. Once hunted for their hides, alligators today are threatened mainly by habitat loss and encounters with people. They are hunted for their skin (for leather goods) and for their meat. Before hunting was controlled in 1970, an estimated 10 million alligators were killed for their skins.

Egrets roost in the trees along the edge of the "alligator nursery" pond. Some of the egrets are displaying their breeding plumage.

Snowy Egrets roost in the trees along the edge of the “alligator nursery” pond. Some of the egrets are displaying their breeding plumage.

A Snowy Egret displays its breeding plumage.

A Snowy Egret displays its breeding plumage.

On the left a large alligator rests (or lies in wait) along a Kiawah Island pond while an egret flies overhead. A large alligator had staked out this territory when we visited a year earlier. I'm assuming it's the same one.

On the left a large alligator rests (or lies in wait) along a Kiawah Island pond while an egret flies overhead. A large alligator had staked out this territory when we visited a year earlier. I’m assuming it’s the same one.

Alligator Swimming in a South Carolina Pond Poster

This alligator, about five feet long, had been sunning himself (or herself) on the shoreline on a pond opposite our house on Seabrook Island, but when friends and I walked onto the deck of our house, he began to swim over to investigate us. He rested in the water for several minutes in the water just below us, seemingly staring up at us. It was a little unnerving even though we were safe on the deck!

About Alligators.

About Snowy Egrets.

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Filed under Friendship, Natural History, Photography, Travel

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands Tourists

Tourists at a Tortoise Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands.

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise retreats into his shell as tourists in another group gather in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands to learn more about this magnificent creature.

I visited the islands with my family in April 2015, and we toured the highlands was our first day.  It was truly thrilling to see these giant tortoises in their natural environment. I remember seeing one in a zoo when I was a child. Children even rode them (I think I even did), which is a bad idea, and of course no longer allowed. They aren’t afraid of humans, but do make a chuffing noise if you startle them.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands.  Here's a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos.   The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately.  There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands. Here’s a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos. The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately. There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The tourists in the pictured group are wisely wearing rubber boots. Our guide offered us boots, too, but I was happy wearing my comfortable “sporty” flip flops, relieved to let my feet breathe after a long trip.  Bad idea.  I successfully evaded puddles and tortoise poop, but I stepped right onto an ant hill teeming with fire ants, an invasive species in the Galapagos. This was within two hours of my arrival on the island of Santa Cruz. I got about six painful, itchy stings on my toes. I’m no stranger to fire ants, so I know enough to wear closed shoes in grassy areas in Texas, but I wasn’t prepared for the little devils in the Galapagos.

Galapagos is an old Spanish word for tortoise. The signs at this ranch warn visitors not to feed or touch the “galapagos.” The tortoises are now more commonly known as “tortuga” in Spanish. (At the bottom of this post is a link explaining how the islands were named.)  The Galapagos Island archipelago has been described as one of most scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on earth, according to UNESCO in 2001.  My week there was amazing, wonderful and incredible, despite fire ants (and various other mishaps.)

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Poster

This Giant Galapagos Tortoise paused to give us a questioning look as he crossed the road in front of our car in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. He is king in this place! (Or perhaps she is queen!)

Baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise Postcard

A yearling baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise, being raised at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. Introduced predators threaten the eggs and young of the Giant Tortoise, so tortoise eggs are gathered, hatched and reared at the station.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Wise old Galapagos Giant Tortoise.

About the Galapagos Islands.

How the Galapagos Islands Were Named.

The Difference Between Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins.

About Lonesome George.

GIANT TORTOISE FACTS: The Galapagos tortoise or Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise and the 14th-heaviest living reptile. Modern giant tortoises can weigh up to 5oo pounds (250 kg); even larger versions, now extinct, roamed every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Today, they exist only the Galapagos Islands, and Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. The tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 620 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. One of the most famous was “Lonesome George,” who died in 2012, the last Pinta Island Tortoise.

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks – on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with “saddleback” shells and long necks. Charles Darwin’s observations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution. Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Environment, National Parks, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Travel

What Does The Fox Say?

After watching this mother fox diligently tend to her young, I think she says “I’m exhausted!”

On and off for many years in the Spring, red foxes have made a den in the rocky ledges of friends’ rural backyard in the Kansas City. This year, there are two adults and six kits. A fox family consists of a male and female adult, plus their offspring, although sometimes a female from the previous litter will help. The gender of the second adult in this family wasn’t clear. The kits (also known as pups or cubs) may be about three weeks old in these photographs, taken April 5, 2014. They are gray and roundish, but are quickly turning red like their parents. Last year when I saw young foxes in early May, they already looked like smaller versions of the adults.

The foxes are very active in this rural neighborhood, and my friend Pat has seen all sorts of behavior, including adults carrying prey, burying it in leaves and then retrieving it; carrying tiny kits in their mouths; nursing the kits; and grooming behavior. Earlier, one of the adult foxes spent about two hours screaming as he ran around the area, possibly as a way to announce his territory. The screaming was so loud that neighbors called out of concern that something terrible was happening, Pat said.
About Foxes.

Click on a photograph to see a full-size version and begin a slideshow with descriptions.

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Filed under Animals, Kansas, Kansas City

Can You Find The Crab?

Can you find the tiny crab, whose coloring matches the large grains of sand of this beach on the north shores of Kauai?

Can you find the tiny crab, whose coloring matches the large grains of sand of this beach on the north shores of Kauai?

I saw this tiny crab, about the size of a grape, skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north shore of the island of Kauai in Hawaii. When the crab stopped, the crab was hard to spot.  I don’t know what kind of crab it is.  Possibly a ghost or a sand crab.  Does anyone know?

Here's a closer look at the tiny crab that I saw skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north side of Kauai. When the crab stopped moving, I could barely see it.

Here’s a closer look at the tiny crab that I saw skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north side of Kauai. When the crab stopped moving, I could barely see it.

About Ghost Crabs in Hawaii.

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Filed under Animals, Photography, Science

Don’t Be a Silly Goose! Fly South for the Winter!

Whose idea was it to spend winter here?

Recently, I was walking Loki, the family dog, when I saw a flock of Canada Geese (a gaggle ?) on a frozen pond in my Kansas City area neighborhood. It was a beautiful sight. The low afternoon sun cast a golden glow onto the melting water, reflecting the geese and the yellow foliage of grass and cat tails. If you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t see the goose poop scattered artistically across the frozen surface. I took the dog home and returned with my camera. The geese don’t like paparazzi, so they headed to the opposite side of the pond.

These geese like the neighborhood.  After a heavy snow, I saw the geese gathered on a golf course, taking advantage of a lack of golfers.

About Canada Geese.

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Humor, Kansas City, Natural History, Photography

How You Can Help Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly on White Swamp Milkweed Postcard  Monarch Butterfly on a Swamp Milkweed Flower

Food and habitat for butterflies are dwindling every year.  You can help by planting milkweed for the monarch caterpillars to eat and nectar plants for butterfly nourishment, says Chip Taylor, entomologist at the University of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a milkweed plant in our neighborhood butterfly garden.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a milkweed plant in our neighborhood butterfly garden. Beautiful golden dots adorn this treasure.

In May of 2012, several people in my neighborhood started a butterfly garden in one of our common shrub beds.   We got a late start, and the summer of 2012 was hot and dry, so we didn’t see much butterfly activity.  Fortunately, the winter of 2012-13 was wet, and the perennial plants revived and then thrived.  We  added more plants, which did so well that they need to be divided and moved apart in 2014 — if they survive the winter.  This summer, I counted a lot of black swallowtail caterpillars, as many as 20 at a time on bronze fennel and parsley plants.  I only saw a few monarch butterfly caterpillars, although the garden has four large milkweed plants.  Hopefully, next year the monarchs will find our garden.  I may order some caterpillars, too.  Here’s the link for ordering Monarch caterpillars: Monarch Rearing Kit.

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Click on this link for more information: One Beautiful Thing You Can Do to Help Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Watch Website.  Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.

Monarch Watch Shop.

I’ve written many posts about butterflies and Monarch Watch.  Here’s one about the fall open house at Monarch Watch, which includes a lot of photographs: Butterfly School at Monarch Watch Fall 2009 Open House.

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Filed under Butterflies